The best time to dive the Bay Islands, Honduras

The waters off the Bay Islands shelter the second largest reef system in the world, but it’s much cheaper to see it here than in Belize. For years the Bay Islands held the title of cheapest place in the world for scuba certification. This is slowly being encroached upon by Nicaragua however the islands remain an amazing place to go diving. On a single dive it’s possible, even common to see fish large and small, turtles and sharks. In season (February to April) the nutrient-rich waters of Utila attract whale sharks, although sightings are not guaranteed.

When to go

There are a number of things to take into consideration. First of all, safety. Hurricane season is June to November. Although you would be unlucky to get caught in a hurricane, unsettled conditions will reduce visibility. Similarly, visibility is less during the rainy season running from October to January. If you want the chance to see whale sharks, the best season is February to April. And finally, if you want fantastically fresh, incredibly cheap, sustainably fished lobster dinner, you need to go in lobster season (July to February 28th). The cross over of all of these, means February is the time to go to the Bay Islands.

The best time to dive the Bay Islands, Honduras

Which Island is for me?

There are three main islands although tourists base themselves at either Roatan and Utila. Choose wisely. It’s surprisingly difficult to get from one to the other, involving either a return trip to La Ceiba on the mainland or an expensive catamaran ride.

Roatan – The luxury resorts are found on Roatan. If you are wanting to dive in the morning then spend the afternoon by a pool with a cocktail in your hand, the West Bay is the place fore you. That said, there is also room for the independent traveller and budget or family travellers on Roatan, look for the West End rather than West Bay. This has a more relaxed vibe than the West Bay and you won’t be moved off the swept white sand for not being a guest. Self catering accommodation is also a way to save money on Roatan. Food can be expensive. The diving though, is still very cheap.
Utila- Utila has very much more of a backpacker’s vibe. Those not on a “super low budget round the world adventure” may feel a little out of place. Food and accommodation is a little cheaper, dive prices are about the same. It’s a smaller island and has unfortunately become very touristy. If whale shark spotting is a must, Utila offers a better chance than Roatan.

A word about security

In June 2009, a military coup ousted the then President Zelaya. Elections were held in November 2009 however the political situation remains unstable. The islands are relatively immune to what happens on the mainland of Honduras however before booking your trip, you should refer to your country’s travel advisory service. Looking at various travel forums, it appears the islands have not experienced an increase in crime or decrease in safety, although tourism numbers are significantly down from previous years. We last visited Roatan in early June of 2009, and numbers were well down, even before the coup, secondary to the global financial crisis.

1 Response

  1. Rob says:

    I live and work in the Bay Islands and I would like to address a few inaccuracies in this article.

    First up – hurricane season, safety, and dive conditions…

    It is true that officially hurricane season runs from June to November. They can even occur outside these months as one late one did this year. Having said that the Bay Islands are about the least affected by hurricanes when compared to the rest of the Caribbean (particularly the leeward islands of Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, etc and island groups such as Caymans and Jamaica). If you are wondering why just check your nearest map of the Caribbean and look at the geography!

    Irresponsible blanket statements like the one published does nothing to give people information and only damages businesses and tourism in a country that is already struggling. You’ll see Honduras is hit by a Hurricane only once in 17+ years. This is a hurricane within 40 miles of the country.

    The ones that did come near enough to affect us (i.e. stop the ferry and stop diving, had nothing more than 4 or 5 ft swells, sunshine and showers and they certainly did not affect the quality of our diving activities.

    Rainy season varies greatly – last year heavy rain, this year almost nothing with lots of sunshine and diving visibility has remained excellent all season (except for a few days and that can happen any time of year).

    Whales sharks can be found all year round (afaik there have been sightings every month for the last 2 years), but feb-may is the best, with march april being typically the peak. Mid-December is typically excellent for whale shark activity as well. As is late September/early October.

    There is no longer any sustainable lobster fishing in the Caribbean. Caribbean reef lobsters are already extinct on many Caribbean reefs. They are in a lot of trouble around the Bay Islands. Please do not eat lobster while you are here, there is no actual lobster “season” in Honduras, there is no legal backing to run one and to prevent people fishing year round (which is in reality what happens). When visiting the Bay Islands please do not assume that seafood is good to eat. Please do your research first. In general we advise not supporting restaurants that serve conch (endangered), lobster (not on the endangered list but missing from some Caribbean reefs already and under a lot of pressure in much of Caribbean), any reef fish especially Grouper (endangered), and Snapper (very important to healthy reefs). Go for pelagic deep water fish such as Mahi Mahi, Wahoo, King Fish, etc. All very good eating.

    If you are really concerned, unless you know the fisherman providing fish to the restaurant is using sustainable methods (basically a hand line, no nets, returns young, avoids spawning, etc) then please don’t eat the sea food. You are destroying the reason you came to the Bay Islands in the first place!

    Utila has a range of accommodation options and visitors. There are five resorts on Utila, all offering world class resort service. The Bay Islands Aggressor Live-aboard is also based on Utila. One of the resorts even has it’s own plane to fly people here from Tegucigalpa, La Ceiba and San Pedro Sula. There are several hotels that offer up-market accommodation and many vacation homes and apartments ranging from $250 per week to over $2,000 per week. With a variety of restaurants from local, budget tourist, to a table service with wine menu. It is true that Utila doesn’t have the 1st world vibe that some areas of Roatan has and if that’s what you want then, yes Roatan will be more your thing. Having said that the resorts here look after their divers very well, as do the dive centers.

    Finally, you will find dive industry standards on Utila extremely high. In fact they are at least as good as anywhere I have dived in the world and better than any other third world country I have dived in anywhere.

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